I still remember the very first time I had second thoughts about cynicism. Many years ago, big money quiz shows such as “21” and “The $64,000 Question” were riding high in the ratings. One day, my Uncle Morrie, a dese-dose-and-dem kind of guy, informed me that the shows were all fixed. When I asked him why he was so convinced of this, he said, “Because nobody knows that much about opera or boxing or anything else.”
Well, of course, some months later the scandal broke, and we all discovered that the shows were fixed, and overnight a popular contestant named Charles Van Doren went from being as beloved as Charles Lindbergh to being as reviled as Bruno Hauptman.
Naturally, the next time I saw Uncle Morrie, he was popping the buttons off his vest. He was very proud that he’d seen through the sham. The problem was that he was right, but for the wrong reason. What he couldn’t grasp was that the cheating hadn’t taken place because nobody could possibly know that much about boxing or opera, but because the producers, in search of bigger and bigger ratings, understood that the audience at home didn’t want to see an obnoxious blowhard named Herbert Stempel defeat the handsome, charming Van Doren. And who could blame them? After all, who roots for the troll when he’s battling Prince Charming?
The worst thing about the quiz show scandal wasn’t that the shows went off the air, but that years later Uncle Morrie was still gloating.
Is it any wonder that I became cynical about cynicism?